May 18, 2004

Language enrollments rocket upward in 1998-2002

Americans traditionally are not enormously interested in studying the languages of other countries, a fact that I take to be well known. Sometimes it almost seems that if a public figure is well acquainted with a foreign language other than Mexican Spanish he needs to conceal it. And linguistic general knowledge is so sorely lacking that Language Loggers find public dimwittedness on linguistic topics to mock nearly every week. But let's not ignore good news. Language Log has not overlooked the encouraging and remarkable facts revealed a few weeks ago by a Modern Language Association report, based on Fall 2002 enrollments in courses as compared to Fall 1998: all languages shot up, especially the less commonly taught ones, and some are up by very substantial factors indeed.

The languages with double-digit percentage enrollment increases (which I have rounded to the nearest integer) were:

Language Increase
American Sign Language:432%
Navajo: 164%
Vietnamese: 149%
Dakota/Lakhota: 83%
Arabic: 92%
Biblical Hebrew: 56%
Italian: 30%
Modern Hebrew: 28%
Portuguese: 21%
Japanese: 21%
Chinese: 20%
Korean: 16%
Latin: 14%
Spanish: 14%

It's true that Russian was hardly up at all (half a percent); but every language was up, and the aggregate percentage enrollment increase was 17%.

[Source: Foreign language enrollments in United States institutions of higher education, fall 2002 by Elizabeth B. Welles, available as a PDF file from the web site of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 18, 2004 06:41 PM